The other day, a friend was talking about what might have been, not necessarily in a wistful tone but certainly a thoughtful one.
“I wonder how my life would have been different if I had attended college in California?” she asked, pondering what would have been a dramatic change of venue and environment from the small school she attended near here.
“So why didn’t you go to California, if that’s where you really wanted to go?” I asked.
She paused a few seconds, clearly considering both the answer and whether she really wanted to share it.
“Because I was a ’fraidy cat,” she finally said, wincing and still thinking about what might have been.
There’s nothing in life more powerful than the fear factor — that reflexive and emotional response that serves as both a checkpoint and a wet blanket.
Over time — and particularly in troubled times like these — we’re all presented with opportunities to break free of our safe zone and tackle something challenging and at the same time frightening. It may be something as dramatic as a daunting new job, college choice or decision involving our children, or it could be something like starting piano lessons or heading back to school at the age of 50.
These are things we may want to do, and things we know we should do. But so often, we do neither, letting fear alter our behavior in ways that ultimately change our lives. They wind up being compromises we didn’t intend to make, and they linger with us forever, keeping us from ultimately getting wherever it is we thought we wanted to go.
During tough economic times like these, times when we sometimes find ourselves staring at the frayed end of our rope, it’s difficult not to think of paths not taken that could have led us on a different, and presumably higher and happier, trajectory.
But we forget that the biggest determinant of happiness isn’t something outside us; instead, it’s the six-inch-space between our ears. If we believe we’re happy, we are; if we spend too much time contemplating choices never made, we probably never will be.
It’s that simple. When the unexpected door opens, will we be ’fraidy cats or will we step up, if for no other reason than just to show ourselves we can do it?
With the economy the way it is, a life-changing choice or two is likely to come our way this year. It will be interesting to see what we do with it.